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Sunday, October 10, 2021

Plein Air Painting Retreat Report: Taos, New Mexico

Down by the River, 9x12 pastel


From my years living in Vermont, I know that it is hard to pin down precisely the week of peak fall foliage.  Sometimes the peak comes a little early—and sometimes a little late.  It's the same in northern New Mexico.  For our plein air painting retreat in Taos this year, the colors were just beginning.  Down by the Rio Grande, the sumacs were showing their first flush of red; in town, the cottonwoods were polishing up the first few gold coins.  As a painter, I find this subtle color more enticing than the full-out carnival.

This year, we had four participants—a small group by design.  Small groups make for easier parking and less impact on the environment.  Plus, if you're visiting a small village to paint, it's less bothersome for the locals.  And, as luck would have it, one of the museums we visited only permitted groups of 6 or fewer, and so we were all able to take the tour together.  Participants came from Arizona, Colorado and New York, all of them past students.  (I give past students priority for the retreats.).

Although painting day in and day out may sound attractive to hard-core outdoor painters, I like to enrich the retreat experience by arranging other (always optional) activities.  In addition to a bounty of beautiful painting spots, Taos also offers several museums, galleries and celebrities.  On Sunday, the day of our orientation meeting, we visited artist Walt Gonske, who was having an open studio weekend.  I first met Walt many years ago.  I was pleased to see that he, fast closing in on 80, still paints from his famous “paint mobile,” which is now in its fourth and, Walt says, perfected version.

Later in the week, we had an opportunity to visit painter Kevin Macpherson.  Although he was very busy—he'd just wrapped up 10 days of shooting a video in his studio and was now packing for a workshop in Maryland—Kevin took the time out to show us his studio and to talk about his travels.  He also invited us to paint his pond, made famous among plein air painters by his book, Reflections on a Pond: A Visual Journal.  Unfortunately, we'd had threatening weather all day, and just as we started painting, the rain began.  (We did enjoy the protection of a gazebo.)  Toward the end of our time, though, the sun burst out, lighting up the aspens along the water's edge with bright yellow.

We also visited the Plein Air Painters of New Mexico annual exhibit at the Wilder-Nightingale Gallery; the Taos Art Museum at the Nicolai Fechin house; the historic Hacienda de la Martinez; the Mabel Dodge Luhan house; and my favorite, the newly-opened Couse-Sharp Historic Site.  E. Irving Couse and Joseph Sharp, both members of the original Taos Society of Painters, shared the property but had separate studios.  A two-hour tour gave us an in-depth look at the lives of these two painters. (I personally preferred the Couse studio, as it remains virtually untouched since his death; the Sharp studio had been, alas, cleaned up by museum curators and looked more like a show studio than a working studio.)  All of these activities put an educational spin on a week that otherwise was filled with painting in inspiring locations.

If you're interested in next year's plein air painting retreat in Taos, the dates are October 2-7, 2022.  Let me know if you'd like to join us.  You can find out more about my retreats—how they're different from a workshop, for example—at my website:  https://www.mchesleyjohnson.com/workshops-2/ 

Here are some paintings and photos from the week.  All of the sketches are available for sale; contact me if interested.

Rainy Day at Mabel's, 9x12 Oil

River Study, 6x8 Oil

Wonky Adobe in Arroyo Seco, 9x12 Pastel

View of John Dunn Bridge, 5x8 Gouache

Taos Mountain, 5x8 Gouache

Walt Gonske's Gate

Painting by the River

More by the River

Me, Sketching in Gouache

Morning Critiques

Kevin Macpherson's Studio (and Kevin)

Tour of the Couse-Sharp Historic Site

E. Irving Couse's Paintbox

Painting at the Couse-Sharp Site

Gate at Mabel Dodge Luhan House

Rain Coming In!


2 comments:

nean12350 said...

What a fantastic workshop. Can't believe how much activity in such a short time frame. The work looks beautiful too. I miss not coming for my usual trip to NM in the fall. Love the colors there this time of year and yes, I too, prefer the more subtle colors before or after the full color spectrum. Glad it worked out so well!

Jo Castillo said...

Looks great. I missed New Mexico this year, too. Thanks for reminding me of how wonderful it is. My favorite of your work is the View of John Dunn Bridge. That is a nice spot to paint. Thanks again.